Thursday, March 20, 2008

Althouse, Ferraro, Race, and Obama

My colleague Ann Althouse is mostly down on Obama's speech, and her very active blog has been widely quoted on the subject. That is not the first time Ann and I have disagreed, sometimes profoundly. She has just posted a response to Obama from Geraldine Ferraro (much offended by the implicit comparison of her to Jeremiah Wright, which I kind of thought served her right).

Many of Ann's fans (from what I can tell, mostly pretty right-wing, at least by my standards) commenting on her blog post go even further in their often tasteless and ill-informed critiques of both Wright (who isn't finding many fans outside the African-American community these days) and Obama (including, but not limited to, his speech on racism in America).

At risk of ruining my reputation among some feminist friends and allies (my long-suffering wife is long familiar with my views on Ms Ferraro), I'll cross-post my comment (with very slight editing, and in more telegraphic and less fully developed form than most of my postings here) from Ann's blog:

Geraldine Ferraro is in deep denial.

I'm not sure she has much of a reputation left, except as a gimmicky footnote to history. Clearly there was little to recommend her, beyond her gender, for the Vice Presidential nomination in 1984 (and can one imagine her as qualified for the Presidency/Commander-in-Chiefdom? What might she come out with at 3am?)

Ms Ferraro would do well to shut up post-haste. (When you are stuck in a deep hole, at least stop digging.)

More generally, I fear that many of the comments on the Rev. Wright show little or no appreciation for the realities of black life in America, or the historic functioning and role of black churches. While I would not choose to defend all of Wright's statements, and they are certainly problematic in the context of a political campaign (where, as Michael Kinsley reminds us, a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth), the nature and extent of the right wing reaction (especially given Obama's own sharply different political and oratorical style, temperament, and clear repudiation of many of Wright's most obnoxious remarks) betrays a willful ignorance of the realities of prejudice and discrimination in American history, including that of our own time.

Obama stated that racism is America's original sin. Those tempted to deny that truth refuse to confront the hard realities of our history.

I would add here that Rev. Wright provides a form of succor for his suffering community. I, and most whites, are not his intended audience, and, I strongly suspect, are ill-prepared to understand the meaning his followers take from his fiery sermons, which may well be more emotive than literal.

As statements from preachers go (I would include some ultra-Orthodox, and ultra-chauvinistic rabbis in their company), I'm not sure the Rev. Wright's are among the most offensive. My G!d does not inflict 9/11 on America in response to gay rights or reproductive freedom, or visit the Holocaust on European Jewry for defects in their mezuzahs or tefillin (or their acceptance of the European Enlightenment). If anything, I, with Lincoln, am more inclined to recognize a G!d whose justice would entail suffering for America's sins of slavery and racism, and for our neglect of the poor.

Obama offers what may be a way out and beyond, toward possible racial healing and reconciliation, and the continued perfection of our imperfect union.

What could be more important?

Who could do it better?

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